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From Nurse Ratched to Joker: 10 of the best movie villains

Peter Bradshaw
·3-min read

The Sheriff of Nottingham

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

For pure thespy, campy naughtiness, Alan Rickman excelled himself as the heartless Sheriff of Nottingham, livid at the altruistic thievery of Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood. He rages: “Robin Hood steals money from my pocket, forcing me to hurt the public, and they love him for it? That’s it then. Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings, and call off Christmas!”

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The Child Catcher

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

The Child Catcher is like some hideous figure from the Brothers Grimm, but was invented (almost certainly by screenwriter Roald Dahl) for this version of Ian Fleming’s children’s book. Unforgettably played by the dancer Robert Helpmann, he capers around the streets of Vulgaria with a cage disguised as a cart full of tempting treats.

Gregory Anton

Gaslight (1944)

Patrick Hamilton’s play has had several adaptations, most famously with Charles Boyer as the manipulative Gregory, insidiously driving his wife Bella (Ingrid Bergman) mad by persuading her to doubt her own senses. He has become a very contemporary villain: the epitome of misogyny, and the source of the word “gaslighting”.

Auric Goldfinger

Goldfinger (1964)

“You expect me to talk?” says 007 as the laser creeps up to his groin, to which Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe) jeers: “No Mr Bond, I expect you to die!” This gold-obsessed German businessman is working on a sinister plan to rob Fort Knox. As Shirley Bassey sings over the credits: “His heart is cold … he loves only gold!”

Dolores Umbridge

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

An authentic force for wickedness, Dolores (Imelda Staunton) is the sort of teacher you can imagine in real life. A nasty bully with a sucrose manner, she revels in humiliation, as in when she makes Potter do lines that then appear painfully scratched on his hand.

Pazuzu

The Exorcist (1973)

Pazuzu is the ancient demon, traditionally thought to have a scorpion’s tail, who invades the body of 13-year-old Regan. This hateful, devilish figure is somehow even more disturbing in the body of a child (played by Linda Blair, although the voice comes from Mercedes McCambridge). It’s a voice turned into a chucklingly evil devil doll, screeching and sneering.

Bee movie … Tony Todd in, and as, Candyman.
Bee movie … Tony Todd in, and as, Candyman. Photograph: Moviestore/Alamy

Candyman

Candyman (1992)

This horror villain is at the centre of Bernard Rose’s satire on race and class in the US. A Chicago student is researching folk tales, including the myth of the devilish “candyman”, the murdered son of a slave who appears if you say his name five times in the mirror. Tony Todd plays the terrifying demon.

Joker

The Dark Knight (2008)

Heath Ledger’s sensationally disturbing Joker from Christopher Nolan’s Batman sequel delivers a genuine frisson of evil. His white face makeup is always on the point of being sweated off; his manic grin is there to mask the fact that the corners of his mouth have been slashed. And there is something stomach-turning about the way he makes a pencil “disappear”.

Mr Perez

Bread and Roses (2000)

In first-world Los Angeles, the corporate office buildings all rely on a cowering, exploited, behind-the-scenes workforce of illegal Mexican cleaners, terrorised by their supervisor, Mr Perez. Played by Mexican-American standup George Lopez in Ken Loach’s drama, Perez bullies and humiliates his staff; he is a horrible creation of capitalism.

Nurse Ratched

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Nurse Ratched is the cool, white-clad matron (played by Louise Fletcher) who rules over the male psychiatric patients in the state mental institution to which Jack Nicholson’s petty criminal Mac gets himself admitted, hoping for a cushy alternative to jail. But she takes a chilling, dictatorial, clinical control of his life.